Sunlight in the Library
Modern libraries are founded on the principle that information is a public good. This principle entails more than just providing access to collections and databases; it necessitates providing our communities with the tools they need to pursue important questions, wherever these may lead. An indispensable tool for those trying to shed greater public light on the actions of the government is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). At the GW Libraries, we share space with the National Security Archive, a world-renowned nonprofit dedicated to bringing classified government documents into the public domain. The archive’s work has helped journalists and scholars enrich our history of the 20th and 21st centuries, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the War on Terror, and the archive’s experts have supplied documents and testimony that have helped courts convict human rights abusers around the world.
Each year we collaborate with the archive’s FOIA expert Nate Jones to introduce our community to the FOIA process. Nate’s fascinating workshop explains how journalists, historians, students, and anyone else can use FOIA (and its close cousin, the Mandatory Declassification Review) to liberate documents from virtually any government agency. FOIA is a powerful but underused tool, perhaps in part because the public lacks the tactical know-how Nate and his colleagues have acquired over the years. Our FOIA workshops draw large and engaged audiences, and by sharing these methods, the Libraries are proud to contribute to a vital part of the democratic process.